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Herd influence not in Cleveland

CLEVELAND – During 14 seasons as the Triple-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, the Buffalo Bisons clearly developed a solid stable of major league talent.

The Bisons won seven division titles while affiliated with the Indians between 1995 and 2008, and fans are quick to recall players who made an impact both in Buffalo and Cleveland. The term “former Bison” has been proudly used when referring to players like Jhonny Peralta, Grady Sizemore, Richie Sexson, Brandon Phillips, Brian Giles, Russell Branyan, Brian Anderson, Bartolo Colon, and Paul Shuey.

It’s been only six years since Cleveland’s last call-up or send-down with Buffalo, but it seems a lot longer when glancing at the current Indians lineup.

Last weekend, when the Tribe hosted and took two of three games from the Kansas City Royals, only two former Bisons – shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and pitcher Josh Tomlin – were on Cleveland’s 25-man roster. And Tomlin is merely a formality, since he appeared in only one game for the Herd in 2008.

Oddly, there was one former Bison on the Royals roster: pitcher Jeremy Guthrie.

To put it into perspective, the New York Mets, Buffalo’s parent club for four years between 2009 and 2012, have 11 ex-Bisons on their current roster.

Granted, two of the 11 (pitchers Bartolo Colon and Buddy Carlyle) didn’t throw for the Herd during the Mets affiliation, and another player (Daniel Murphy) only appeared with Buffalo on a rehab assignment, but that still leaves eight players who remain in Gotham at least two years removed from their time in Buffalo.

Those Mets figures don’t even factor in three pitchers who are currently on the disabled list: Matt Harvey, Dillon Gee, and Jon Niese.

It’s foolish to predict whether it’ll resemble the Cleveland situation in a few years, where all but two of them will have moved on. But I’d be surprised if Lucas Duda, Jeurys Familia, Jenrry Mejia, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Zack Wheeler, and the three injured pitchers all were out of their Mets uniforms in 2018.

So what really happened to the Buffalo-Cleveland pipeline?

Perhaps the Indians’ draft positioning before the final years of the relationship with the Bisons was a factor. After all, the Tribe had baseball’s fifth-best winning percentage between 2005 and 2007, giving them a less advantageous position to pick from.

Additionally, the later Buffalo years seem to have been erased when the Cleveland organization was revamped as general manager Chris Antonetti took over just after the 2010 season. He quickly emphasized trades and free agency, and the result was a squad which qualified for a Wild Card playoff spot in 2013.

In fairness, Antonetti didn’t exactly neglect the Herd when he was Cleveland’s vice-president of baseball operations between 2002 and 2010. In that role, he helped steer talent toward the Bisons when they won the International League championship in 2004 and posted another division win in 2005.

But that string of playoff contenders at Coca-Cola Field has maybe clouded the reality that the Bisons finished no better than third place in their final three years of the Cleveland relationship. Likewise, though, the Mets affiliation didn’t produce anything better than a third-place finish.

The bottom line is that good players are going to be good players, regardless of whether they’re part of a winning tradition in their minor-league years.

Cleveland decided they’d be better off without most of the guys who happened to have played for the Bisons. This year, as the Indians battle their way to .500 before realistically thinking about another postseason appearance, it’s obvious there isn’t much of a Buffalo connection to these Indians teams anymore.


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